At the beginning on summer, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator team participated in four Africa start-up focused events held in three different countries: Tech in Ghana Conference (UK), Africa Tech Summit (UK), Africa NOW By Google and Partech(France) and MEST Summit (Kenya). These events convened some of the most reputable players in the African tech ecosystem, including investors, start-ups, mobile operators and others writes senior insights manager at GSMA Sam Ajadi. This piece brings together three key observations from these events.
Africans are mobile first, and mostly mobile only
Historically, Africa has been bereft of telecoms infrastructure and the scale of the communications problem was gigantic until mobile phones came along. Across the four events mentioned above, participants sung the praises of mobile technology. Kenechi Okeleke, Senior Manager, GSMA Intelligence, kick-started Tech in Ghana, revealing the state of the mobile industry in the West African nation. Ghana, he stated, has about 16 million unique mobile subscribers with 10 million mobile internet subscribers. The country outperforms the Sub-Saharan Africa average in terms of the Mobile Connectivity Index (affordability, infrastructure, consumer and content). Kenechi explained that mobile is the primary digital technology for disrupting inefficient value chains across multiple industries.
The conversation continued the next day at Africa Tech Summit, where Kojo Boakye (Head, Connectivity and Access Policy, Facebook Africa) shared that Facebook believed, alongside GSMA, that there will be 634 million unique mobile subscribers by 2025. Later, during a breakout session on ‘Tech for Good’, mobile was also showcased as a tool to address the health needs and as a means to transform healthcare in Africa. Similarly, MEST Africa Summit covered healthtech, agritech and fintech, all with a touch of mobile. At Africa NOW, Adama Bari Diallo (Head of Android Platform Partnerships Francophone Africa & Nigeria, Google) set the scene by stating that “Africans are mobile first, and mostly mobile only”.
African tech events are leveling up with an increasing focus on doing business and connecting the ecosystem
The four events revealed that Africa tech events are reaching new heights. Gone are the days when they were almost solely about showcasing tech solutions. Young companies had to prove, through pitches and presentations, that tech-driven solutions can tackle Africa’s challenges. The conversations have now evolved, matching the growing maturity of the Africa tech scene. Scaling start-ups and tech-enabled innovation is now becoming front and centre in the conversations and Africa tech events are increasingly focused on how to accelerate and spread innovation across the continent. Remarkably, a wave of start-ups is reaching new heights of consumer trust, tackling chronic inefficiencies across value chains and driving lasting socio-economic impact across sectors.
This year, Africa Tech Summit and Tech in Ghana had more closed door and breakout sessions than previous years. Tech in Ghana had six sessions including Financial Inclusion, Blockchain Technology, Leveraging Technology to Digitise Trade, Building the Tech Ecosystem, Social Commerce and eCommerce along with Knowledge and Skills Exchange in a Tech-Driven Environment. Whilst Africa Tech Summit had three breakout sessions – Africa Investors Roundtable, Women in Tech Roundtable, and Tech For Good which focused on using mobile to address the health needs of the 21st century. All these sessions allowed participants to discuss, more intimately, the opportunities and challenges facing African tech. All these prove that Africa tech events are not talking shops, rather they are focused on doing business and connecting the ecosystem.
Africa needs to get fintech right to increase financial inclusion
The four events were blessed with a presence of some of the continent’s biggest fintech players – the likes of Yoco,OneFi, Jumo and Flutterwave. The fintech panels brought to light the importance of, and the need for, financial inclusion to increase development outcomes. “Fintech bridges the gap of the underserved populations”, stated Richard Woodhull, Investment Officer, OPIC, on a panel session at Africa Tech Summit. There was almost a consensus across all fintech panels (in all four events!) that traditional banking isn’t working for the underserved and unbanked. Thus, fintech has a crucial role to play in bridging this gap.
Arguably, no tech sector/space has the potential to impact Africans at the bottom of the pyramid as fintech does. By addressing the issues of financial exclusion, fintech companies can equip more people to become financially savvy. The increased access to financial services can open new doors to individuals and families, allowing them to smooth out consumption and invest in their futures.
It is, therefore, no surprise that financial Inclusion attracted the lion’s share of tech investment on the continent with 50 per cent of total funding in 2018.
To conclude, we would like to thank the organisers of all four events for inviting the Ecosystem Accelerator team to participate in the conversations.
Sam Ajadi is an Insights Manager for the Ecosystem Accelerator programme where he provides mobile operators and startups across Africa and Asia with innovation intelligence.